As the head of the Rio Grande Foundation, a free market think tank that works to research and educate New Mexicans on the importance of free markets and personal liberty, I have been as involved in the debate over “right to work” as anyone in our State. Right to work laws are about two things: 1) worker freedom and 2) economic development. Attempts to conflate them with some kind of racist conspiracy are simply ridiculous.

With the Roswell City Council having had a heated discussion on the topic recently, it is important to understand what “right to work” really is. It is a law that ensures that workers can choose to join or not join a labor union as a precondition of employment. “Right to work” is about the freedom of association and the freedom to pay dues to an organization or to choose not to pay dues. “Right to work” laws are completely silent on the issue of race and it is unclear how such a law could be interpreted differently.

We do know that 28 states have “right to work” laws on the books in the United States. Also, back in January of 2015 the Rio Grande Foundation began tracking job announcements in “right to work” and forced-unionism states using information provided by Area Development Magazine which reports data on high-skill, high-wage job announcements.

Over that three year period “right to work” states saw 76 percent of new jobs and more than 78 percent of all “foreign direct investment” jobs locate within their borders. Foreign direct investment involves companies headquartered overseas investing in facilities located in the United States. With New Mexico still having fewer jobs today than it did in February 2008 (prior to the Great Recession), New Mexico policymakers should be embracing policy reforms like “right to work.”

While Councilor Oropresa seems to oppose “right to work” and is using hyperbole and extreme rhetoric to oppose it, he is right about one thing: the Council-passed resolution supporting “right to work” in the New Mexico Legislature won’t have any impact. After passing the Republican-controlled House in 2015, “right to work” failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate. With the unions among the largest donors to Democrat politicians, they have little interest in “right to work.” Now the Democrats control both houses of the Legislature.

The good news is that Roswell doesn’t have to wait on the Legislature to go “right to work” and make itself a more business-friendly place. Sandoval County is on the verge of adopting such a law and other cities and counties throughout New Mexico will likely consider such laws throughout 2018.

Local governments are going to have to do something about economic development themselves and there is no more powerful tool than “right to work.” After all, New Mexico has the 2nd-highest unemployment rate and a stagnant population (despite superior weather and economically-booming neighbors). Still, there is little initiative in this 30-day legislative session to enact sweeping economic reforms.

We encourage policymakers throughout Southeast New Mexico to embrace “right to work.” Despite the rhetoric, it is pro-worker freedom and free association. It also happens to be good for the economy. We stand ready to work with any local official willing to suffer the slings and arrows from powerful special interest groups to make their community a better place.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility